Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Altars Restored: The Changing Face of English Religious Worship, 1547-C. 1700

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Altars Restored: The Changing Face of English Religious Worship, 1547-C. 1700

Article excerpt

Altars Restored: The Changing Face of English Religious Worship, 1547-c. 1700. By Kenneth Fincham and Nicholas Tyacke. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2007. Pp. xviii, 396. $180.00. ISBN 978-0-19-820700-9.)

This study brings a very useful chronological range to an area that has primarily been confined to the historiography of the Caroline reign. The title is slightly misleading in that it is not a "one-trick pony" on altars so much as their being the center of attention in a broader treatment of religious material culture, space and devotional priorities, and their relations with such issues. It is extraordinarily rich in terms of sources and geographically, bringing a sensitivity to reading the material (and manuscript sources relating to the material) that has often been lacking in the historiography. In addition to the fruits of new evidence, this work brings together fields of study too often kept apart. The reader is drawn into an engagement with illuminating instances and maintaining a tension between the particular and the general with neither getting lost in the other. This is especially the case with the attention paid to the appearance of building and refurbishment under James VI and I, separating the too-often-assumed connection between structural maintenance and an appetite for ceremonial worship.

The heart and soul of the book lies in the period between 1625 and 1640, which is no surprise given the authors and the historiographical earth from which it grows. However, this should not be taken to suggest that the first three chapters be regarded merely as a preface to what follows. Indeed, this section provides interesting new assessments of the comparative failure of Elizabeth I. The space on avant-garde ceremonialism adds profitable flesh to earlier bones. It is very strong on muddying the waters and helping readers to make distinctions between "tables" and "altars," becoming appreciative of different styles, the variety of options for spatial arrangement, mobility of the furniture as well as raising a sensitivity to railing, on how rails appear, different forms of enclosure, the relationship between rails and table, different manners and intensities of enforcement. …

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